Locals battle military planes

  In southern Colorado's isolated Wet Mountain Valley, a former county commissioner is hoping nearly eight years of effort will keep the area free from more low-flying military planes.

"If we're concerned about our peace and quiet, our lifestyle, our agricultural community and our wildlife, then we'd better stand up and let the military know," says Bob Senderhauf, a former Custer County commissioner who heads a citizens' group opposing the expansion of military overflights.

Although the Colorado Air National Guard has flown practice routes in the Wet Mountain Valley for about 20 years, it says more are needed to meet its training standards. The proposed Colorado Airspace Initiative (HCN, 4/13/98) would allow more frequent overflights, some as low as 300 feet.

To Senderhauf, that means "We'd be in a mock war zone."

Senderhauf has been supported in his efforts by a coalition of local citizens' groups, four local county commissions and the Colorado State Legislature, which passed a resolution in April supporting relocation of the training routes. Senderhauf's group has also had the backing of Aussie-brand shampoo founder Tom Redmond, who owns a ranch in the valley and says he has spent over $1 million fighting the initiative.

Redmond's lobbyist, former Colorado congressman Ray Kogovsek, says Redmond will challenge the initiative in court if it is approved, citing safety concerns and noise pollution. "We find it a little preposterous," he says. "For them to be flying over the quietest parts of Colorado just doesn't make sense."

The FAA, which has the final say in the approval process, held public hearings on the issue in Colorado in late May. Its decision is expected by the end of 1998.

* Michelle Nijhuis

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